Being Trained For The Technological Dustbin Of History

new report by the non-profit Project Tomorrow indicates a serious disconnect between what K-12 principals want from new teachers and what education majors are learning about teaching in their college courses.

As described in an overview of the report from KQED blog MindShift, more than two-thirds of the teachers-in-training surveyed report that they “rely most heavily on field placements to learn about how to integrate technology into the classroom.” Coursework, on the other hand, emphasizes using technology for document and spreadsheet preparation, multimedia presentations, and smartboards — in other words, for the organization and display of information, rather than to enhance student learning.Univac

School principals, in contrast, want the new teachers whom they hire to know how to use technology “to create authentic learning experiences for students [and] differentiate instruction” as part of a move toward self-directed learning in the classroom.

I see a similar disconnect between political scientists and university students. We are trained, if one can call it that, to think about technology as a virtual filing cabinet that might make onerous bureaucratic tasks a bit easier. How many times have you been to a presentation about a new technology and seen people snap to attention only when someone asks “Will this sync with my calendar?” A few individuals might experiment with how to use a technology to improve the learning experiences of their students, but the professional rewards or recognition that they get for their efforts is usually minimal at best.

Eventually, though, the dyke is going to shatter. Innovation always forces an examination of old assumptions and sweeps away less productive processes. An entirely new paradigm will be adopted, as happened in U.S. manufacturing a century ago:

“Early 20th-century factories [initially] simply swapped waterwheels and steam engines for large electric motors but retained inefficient belt-and-pulley systems to transmit power from the central power source. Real productivity gains came only after manufacturers realized that many small motors distributed throughout a factory could generate power where and when it was needed; ultimately, it was the re-engineering of processes coupled with the new technology that generated explosive growth in U.S. manufacturing productivity” (p. 2224).*

If we are to avoid the fate of belt and pulley systems, we must foster the same qualities in ourselves that we claim are important for our students: creativity, a love of experimentation, and a willingness to learn from failure. Our profession and our employers must support us in this effort.

*Spencer S. Jones, Paul S. Heaton, Robert S. Rudin, and Eric C. Schneider, “Unraveling the IT Productivity Paradox — Lessons for Health Care,” New England Journal of Medicine 366, 24 (June 14, 2012): 2243-45.

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